Co-ops in Canada employ hundreds of thousands and contribute billions to the GDP. These co-ops are democratic, they care for their communities, and they’re strong and successful because they engage with their member-owners to know how to keep the business running well.
Except, perhaps, in the case of Mountain Equipment Co-op, whose downfall is something that will be studied for some time. In retrospect, as the co-op grew, its leadership became more and more disconnected from its members, with more big-box retail experience than on-the-ground member connection. This led the co-op to succumb to the retail dream of massive, fast expansion — the exact opposite of the desires of many vocal members who were locked out from elections by strict rules that prioritized C-suite experience over hiking boots and granola.
The campaign to save the co-op, on the other hand, leaned heavily in the other direction: taking all volunteers as they came, democratizing participation and campaigning, collaboratively sharing communications, translation, outreach and fundraising tasks — all without any dream of personal benefit for any of the volunteers other than saving a community good. In essence, the Save MEC campaign was co-operation at its most real and its best. And it’s this essence that Canada needs more of, today.